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James Moultrie

UAE Tour: Olav Kooij wins tight sprint finish on stage 5

Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) on the podium after winning the stage (Image credit: Getty Images)
Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) had a relatively comfortable day in the leader's jersey (Image credit: Getty Images)
Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) remained in the points jersey despite missing out on the stage win (Image credit: Getty Images)
Ilan van Wilder (Soudal Quick-Step) remained in the young rider's jersey after stage 5 (Image credit: Getty Images)
Mark Stewart (Team corratec - Vini Fantini) on the podium in the black sprints jersey (Image credit: Getty Images)
Jay Vine and Mikkel Bjerg (both UAE Team Emirates) chatting before the start of the stage (Image credit: Getty Images)
The riders make their way through the start in Al Aqah (Image credit: Getty Images)
The peloton on the long drag up to Al Mihtirqah early in the day (Image credit: Getty Images)
AJ August (Ineos Grenadiers) is on feeding duty during his first World Tour race (Image credit: Getty Images)
The peloton cut through the striking landscape north east of Dubai early on stage 5 (Image credit: Getty Images)
The breakaway trio: Jacopo Mosca (Lidl-Trek), Harm Vanhoucke and Lennert van Eetvelt (both Lotto Dstny) (Image credit: Getty Images)
Race leader Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) dealing with the heat (Image credit: Getty Images)
Fernando Gaviria (Movistar Team) was hoping to improve on his results from earlier stages (Image credit: Getty Images)
The riders roll through the desert (Image credit: Getty Images)
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Dstny) crashed halfway through the stage after getting tangled in some debris (Image credit: Getty Images)
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Dstny) continues with torn shorts after a crash (Image credit: Getty Images)
Mark Cavendish flanked by his Astana Qazaqstan team-mates (Image credit: Getty Images)
The final sprint is launched (Image credit: Getty Images)
It was a sprint battle royale between two of the worlds fastest (Image credit: Getty Images)
Time to celebrate for Visma - Lease a Bike. Kooij embraces team-mate Loe van Belle (Image credit: Getty Images)

It was the closest sprint yet at the UAE Tour, with Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike) narrowly denying Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep) his hat-trick of stage wins on stage 5 in a photo-finish victory.

Merlier was majorly out of position in the final kilometre, forced to launch from way down in the peloton with Kooij starting his sprint on the right-hand side of the road off the back of a strong Astana Qazaqstan lead out for Mark Cavendish.

As the Brit ran out of steam, Kooij made his dart for the line and just managed to pip Merlier by a few millimetres at the line with a great bike throw. Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) was third after a significantly better leadout, but was just overhauled by Merlier and Kooij.

This was Kooij’s sixth win at WorldTour level and equally most prestigious, given the quality of the sprint field, alongside his stage victory at Paris-Nice in 2023.

“I’m really happy. I didn’t know, so we had to wait a bit, but after the first two sprints where it got better, you need to get everything to get the win and luckily today I did,” said Kooij immediately after the finish.

The tactics were clear for the Dutchman who nailed his targets for the final kilometre, in contrast to second place Merlier who started his sprint way down on the eventual winner after an absent leadout, albeit only narrowly losing out.

“Never hit too much with the headwind and try to get a good position in the last roundabout,” said Kooij of his tactics in the final.

“I thought maybe it was a bit far but then I could follow Mark Cavendish on the right and luckily saw a little gap to pass.”

It was victory number 30 for Kooij and another continuation of his journey to the upper echelons of sprinting. He is set to head to his first Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia in May where he’ll hope to repeat his success with Wout van Aert as leadout.

How It Unfolded

The longest stage of the 2024 UAE Tour kicked off with the second early attack in as many days from Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Dstny), but this time the Belgian had a teammate with him in Lennert Van Eetvelt.

Jacopo Mosca (Lidl-Trek) also joined them, with Mark Stewart (Corratec-Vini Fantini) deciding against a fourth day in the break.

Van Eetvelt started the day 43 seconds down on race leader Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) and 12th overall after Rainer Kepplinger (Bahrain Victorious) was unfortunately forced to abandon with a broken hand sustained in a crash on stage 4.

The Belgian became the virtual leader on the road as the trio’s advantage grew to more than five minutes. He wasn’t hoping to make it to the finish with that lead but instead wanted the six bonus seconds available on the 182km route from Al Aqah to Umm Al Quwain.

Van Eetvelt swept up both intermediate sprints at Al Saadi Roundabout and Al Lebsa, moving him up to equal ninth overall with Vine’s teammate Mikkel Bjerg with a 37-second deficit to the Australian.

There were signs of chaos breaking out in the peloton as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Dstny) crashed and Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal-QuickStep threatened to split the peloton in the increasing wind with 84km to go.

Nothing came of the accelerations and with Mosca reeled in around 60km from the finish, all focus turned to the approach to the sprint and planning how to stop Merlier from taking a hat-trick of stage wins at this year's race.

Roundabouts and a series of turns inside the final 10km reshuffled the pack and the positions of the sprint trains. The nerves were increasing with each change of direction stringing out the peloton and no team establishing full control.

The speeds flew up with 3km to go and Bora-Hansgrohe and Movistar were best placed at the front of proceedings. Merlier and Soudal Quick-Step remained calm in the bunch and were again looking to leave it late as they had done on stages 1 and 4.

Mark Cavendish’s Astana Qazaqstan train finally found its form with the Manxman entering the final in the first ten spots, but as Michael Mørkøv pulled off and Cavendish started his sprint, it was clear he didn’t have the speed.

Kooij had latched onto his wheel and the Brit allowed him enough of a gap up the inside of the barriers to come around. On the left-hand side of the road, Welsford had been piloted successfully enough by Danny van Poppel and launched his charge with Merlier in close pursuit.

The trio came to the line in a blanket finish with neither Merlier nor Kooij sure if they had taken the victory. As the photo-finish came in, it was the Dutchman who had just come out on top with Merlier just a tyre’s width behind at the line.

Tomorrow’s sixth stage will give Merlier and Soudal Quick-Step an immediate chance to exact revenge after missing out today with a poor leadout.

The 138km stage from the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum to Abu Dhabi Breakwater will be the final chance for the fast men in the UAE, so expect a desperate and furious charge to the line as they try and get something out of the race ahead of the summit finish finale on Sunday at Jebel Hafeet.


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